Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hitting the heights and free running

There's something about those exposed slopes above the saddle between the East and West peaks of Mount Barney that is seriously unnerving.

Maybe it's because there are few other places in queensland that are higher than 1,100m above sea level, hemmed in by cliffs.
Maybe it's because the weather is windy at best and wild at worst.
And maybe it's because, as the traditional owners of the land believe, Mt Barney is cursed.

In any case, I still love the place.

Despite the weather, a host of niggles and a throbbing headache to begin with, the ascent with Vetti up Peasant's Ridge to the saddle was pretty comfortable, and felt quite safe.

But once we started ascending out of that small patch of jungle, the perceived risk went through the roof.
The route to the top was, as usual, quite difficult to follow, but we were only off the footpad for 15 minutes at most. This time, we actually followed the main ridge, instead of scrambling up an impossibly steep fern slope as had been the case on a previous trip.
The fact that Mike and I managed to get nine people (who all had little mountain experience - one not having slept the night before) up and down Barney without a casualty on that day is a miracle. Period.
Back to the less-distant past, and the wind was howling, sending ominous clouds zooming overhead and the temperature down to the teens. Cold and fear.
We arrived gratefully at the top after a hitch-free four hours from the base (I was really impressed with Vetti's endurance). A celebratory hug and quick break, then back the way we came.
Well, for a few hundred metres that was. We got off-route, into thick scrub, and on to steep slabs. Cliffs looming everywhere.
[For my own future reference: we got off-route coming down from the steep slab to the mini-gully where we found the route on the previous trip; we possibly followed the gully a bit too far south]
V was staying positive, laughing it off.

It was all business for me; a fair amount of stress with route-finding and a dose of fear for her safety. Soon enough, the footpad had returned and I was content.
And then it disappeared again, requiring a quick scramble up the creek to the grassy lookout just South of Rum Jungle.
Tuna and salad sandwiches, gazing hundreds of kilometres to the North.
And then down.
It was very slow going for the descent - the problem quad was playing up to a certain extent.
When the trail turned flat again, we had a chat to a strolling family, a search for the Savages ridge turnoff (to no avail), and a look at a fucking massive carpet python.

As we approached the final hillock... Well, pictures speak louder than words.

Back to the car, then to the campsite overlooked by Mount Maroon.
Pasta with a tuna-bean-tomato sauce for dinner, then hours spent looking at the fire. There aint much better.
The previous day we'd arrived at about 2pm and after setting up and lazing around the creek for a little while, went for an explore.
We crossed to the open paddock of a private property, and were presented with a spectacular view of Barney, Maroon, and the other peaks of the area glowing in the afternoon sun. We jogged around for a bit, and for the first time in a month, I felt the joy of running. That was one of the intended effects of the trip, to get the legs back beneath me.
After Vetti had turned back towards camp, I felt compelled to lose all the clothing. Free running in every sense of the term - pretty damn exhilarating.

The day after the climb, we gingerly hiked 90 minutes each way to the lower portals, where a huge natural pool opens up in Mount Barney Creek. What followed was the most enjoyable and refreshing rock scramble and swim I've had in a long time.

Driving back home on a Tuesday afternoon, you realise just how lucky you are to be a uni bum with ample free time. To be able bodied. To have a close and adventurous friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


To keep some perspective I suppose one always has to remember the old cliche' that life is a series of peaks and troughs. Enjoy the peaks, and endure the troughs understanding that they'll end.

Anyways, I find myself in a bit of a trough at the moment.
It's been four weeks since I've felt anything close to decent, and there is another possible culprit to add to the list which already includes lack of sleep and overtraining/burnout:
Iron deficiency.
I've read that an increased intake of calcium leads to a decreased absorption of iron. Eating atleast a kilo of youghurt every day for the past couple of months may be starting to catch up to me. That, and not eating red meat for the past two years.
There is also a fair amount of back discomfort/pain due to sleeping on a giant sponge and not strengthening the lower back.
The residual foot tendinitis from Glasshouse is yet to clear. A 700m jog on Saturday reminded me of its imposing presence.
I miss Mount Cootha.

So, a few resolutions: no dairy indefinitely, take iron tablets, eat kangaroo steaks, sleep on a camping mat, do deadlifts, ice the foot, eat ginger and cayenne pepper (anti-inflammatories), start hiking again.

It seems that this blog frequently deteriorates to ramblings, whinings and "the diet starts tomorrow"s akin to those of an obese middle-aged woman. I apologize if it is boring to the few frequent readers, but it helps me to make sense of the troughs, learn from them and savour the peaks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

GH100 DNF part 2: sluggish

The first 80km (and possibly the entireity of) my race can only really be understood in the context of the four weeks leading up to the event.
After peaking at 167km in one week, I was reasonably destroyed for the entirety of the fourth week out.
The third week out began with three 11.3km runs in about 1:20 each with 450m of climb. By the third of these, on Wednesday morning, the spring had returned to my step, and it felt like a training effect west beginning to kick in. So, grasping this apparent window of opportunity, I went for a 50km long run (in 5:20, 900-1000m climb), on which I only had one banana, one gel, and some powerade powder for sustenance. Jogging up Boundary street for home, it felt like the tail-end of a race-gone-wrong, and by the time I had bent over to untie my shoelaces in front of the door, I was dangerously close to passing out.
The next morning, in an attempt to put together a back-to-back, I ran 20kms of rolling road. By the end of this run, the right quad felt close to injured, but that didn't stop me from running 10km that night, and another 10km the next morning. Up to Wild Horse that night for the final 20km of Glasshouse 100 training, and you have a suitably exhausted runner. The two-week taper was really all about injury rehab, lack of sleep, and anxiety at the prospect of not lining up at the start for whatever reason. Never have I invested so much emotional energy in one day.

So by the time I was standing in front of Delina wondering out loud where Dave was, and the other 100 people around me started running, I felt mentally spent.

Anyways, the first 10km loop and subsequent uping and downing of Beerburrum was conducted at a pinch above comfortable. Had a good chat and laugh with Dave C, Ollie, Kevin and others, and watched Cozmo annihilate his quads down the steep pavement of the mountain. Arriving at the bottom, Dave C caught up, and we stuck together around the back of the twins, although I had to stop multiple times to retie the shoelaces, and consequently run hard to catch up. At some point, Dave W caught up to and passed us, and maintained a 100-metre lead until man-mountain-Mike pulled up alongside and we started to reel him in. Eventually, Dave E materialised out of nowhere, and we had a jovial pack of five running at a wildly unsustainable pace, especially on the uphills. After about 5km of this, on a steep downhill, Coombs and I got dropped, and then Dave started running away from me. It wasn't a conscious effort to slow down, my quads just literally couldn't go any faster.
At this point came the realisation that we were in for a tough day at the office, and I started to take stock of just how rubbish everything felt. There was an uncharacteristically low level of enjoyment, and when the problem left quad started to flare, it was reduced again. So somewhere on the steep rolling hills to Checkpoint 5, the race for a top-4 spot ended for me, both within my mind and out in the real world.
I arrived at the checkpoint, took two new bottles from Dad (who had been fantastically smooth in his crewing so far), got confused about which way to go, and was sluggishly on my way.

That's the one word that I would use to define those first 80km: sluggish.

I had to constantly remind myself that by 70km I'd warm up and start feeling good.
And so it went to checkpoint six, where I asked the volunteers which way to go.
"Well, it says on the map that..."
"No no, I mean do I turn left, right, or go straight ahead?"
After trying the first two, wasting about 7 minutes and being caught by Spud, Mal and others, we realised that straight ahead was the way to go.
Mal and I yo-yoed at the head of this small group, before I pulled away on the approach to the powerlines. Dad handed me a cap (good idea), rotated the bottles, and I plunged downhill into that beautiful meat-grinder of ruts, puddles and 40% inclines.
Had a bit of fun bombing and sliding the downs on this section, running with Dick (100k), getting sprayed by motorbikes and pissed off by 4-wders.
Dick dropped me right at the end of this section, before mal started gaining on the rollers out to 8. We yo-yoed a bit more in the last two ks, and my quick transition through the checkpoint created a gap of about 5 minutes pretty quickly. On these two great loops, I focused on running as much as possible, only walking when the calves started to really burn. I started to panic at one point, as the heart rate was really high, and I was afraid of causing some serious damage.

Just get to 70km.

Well, pretty soon I was being chided by a random for the ripped shorts and accepting an awesome gluten-free egg sandwich from Susannah on the way out of 8, and 70km had rolled around. Luckily, I was focusing too hard on running all of those hot, wide, rolling abominations on the way to 7 to notice that I hadn't started to feel better. Nic and Mallani came past looking pretty happy, which was really encouraging.
In the three ks to CP 7, I entertained some serious thoughts of dropping out. I was bummed at not having hit my stride yet and fed up with not enjoying something that I'd usually love.
The loop at 7 was even worse - a really deep mental and physical low. I was counting down the metres left till the checkpoint.

It has to get better.

Through 7 again, aided by Dad's impeccable crewing, I was off into the now-sinking sun along an unfamiliar section of the course. A high five as I passed Spud and Gordi.
Somewhere in the previous 30km, the top of my left foot had started to flare up, and I was altering my stride and taking Ibuprofen to mitigate the pain - it was manageable.
This was where it started to turn around. The shady and sandy section on the way back to 6 was just beautiful, and the body started to loosen.
The Beerwah loop was much the same; an enjoyable exercise in running as much of the terrain as possible, keeping the blood-sugar high with a steady intake of gels, and contemplating existential questions.
Through Checkpoint 5, the last before the school, feeling fine, and just focusing on getting to 109km in good spirits. Soon after leaving, I realised that I had missed a crucial part of the race-plan; to spend a good while at 5 recouping, so that upon arriving at the school I would feel like continuing. This caused a minor panic, but when I realised that everything was alright, I was once again able to settle in to the quiet grace of the forest.
There's something indefinably great about watching the sun move up and over and down again while propelling yourself through a beautiful natural landscape.
Anyways, about 7km out from the school, I started to feel really, really sleepy, and it was quite a struggle to keep awake. By the time I arrived at Steve Irwin Way, that had faded, and I cruised the footpath at 6 minute kms, in good shape.
Into the registration area - 109km in 11:28 - "looking good", smile for the camera, get weighed, eat lots of cheese, pick up new bottles, and away we go.
I'm feeling great. Just 53km to go. We'll just keep running until we can't, and then walk it in if necessary. 19 hours? 18:30? 17:30? Anything could happen.
I rolled back along the footpath, passing Mal (coming in the opposite direction), who also looked fantastic, and before long I'd passed the turnoff to Caves Road.
50km to go. How many times have I run 50km? This is awesome. Piece of cake. I'm going to finish this thing. There was no feeling of joy or elation, just a quiet knowledge.
I ran off into the setting sun, thinking about nothing but the wind on my back and the next step forward.

Obviously all of this was rendered irrelevant by the breakdown and DNF, but I think that many lessons can be learned from this bad day at the office.
1. Do not take Ibuprofen. I took 5 tablets on the day, in a consistent stream, beginning at 5am. Apparently, it slows the nerves down. This was probably one factor responsible in making me feel so lethargic throughout the race, and stopping me from realising how far gone the quads were before it was too late.
- Take drugs only at the tail-end, if absolutely necessary.
2. Do not care. I had placed way too much stock in this race, spending most of my waking hours thinking about it in the two weeks proceeding, so that by the time September 10 had rolled around I was mentally exhausted and really couldn't care less.
- Relax, it's only a race.
3. Do not rely mainly on gels. The thick consistency of them really destroyed my stomach, so that by 15 hours in, I didn't even want to look at another Gu.
- Eat more solid food.
4. Do not overtrain. I was starting to freshen two and a half weeks out, but pushed myself over the edge again with little reason.
- Maintain consistentcy in the weeks proceeding.
5. Do not go out so hard. What's the point?
- Start of slower to warm up.
6. Do not miss sleep. As fun as it is to chat with your housemates until 12am, it detracts from your performance in every area, mental clarity, and overall enjoyment of life.
- Go to bed early.

The disappointment of missing out on a 100 mile finish and the series win is growing on me a little, but I'm still pretty indifferent to everything that happened, possibly due to a bad case of burn out.

From an objective viewpoint, it was an overwhelmingly positive, enriching experience.
I still have much to run for.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GH100 DNF Part 1: Bipolar

I stumble into the brightly lit motel room with Dad in tow. He scurries behind me picking up the scraps left in my hobbling wake, as I make my way towards the bath. After a few agonising and suspenseful minutes I have removed the mud-caked Mizunos, holey socks, ripped shorts and thermal top, and am caressing the dirt and pain away under a torrent of heat. Eventually, the plug goes in and I recline, my mind reeling.

I couldn't even begin to process the entirety of the day's events in a meaningful and conclusive way. I couldn't rationalize what had happened into a neat summary or even a loosely cohesive narrative. So I felt nothing - not happy, not downtrodden, not empty, maybe just a little weary.

But there were two polar opposites running through my brain. Two moments that I knew would come to define this race for me, being burned deep into that corner of the human consciousness reserved for the most powerful experiences. Two moments that gradually converged.

Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch.
The sun set about two hours ago, and the night has finally closed in.
It's dark, and it's getting colder.
Dressed in a pair of shorts and t-shirt, you stumble along, shivering.
Your headlamp illuminates the miserably sandy trail underfoot, which has reduced your pace to something between ridiculous and geriatric.
Quads are destroyed - 15 degrees is all the bending that can be extracted from your knees.
"Ok, try to push as hard as you can, atleast for a second" - now you're moving at 2.5km per hour.
It's hopeless, dangerous even - there is a serious possibility of causing yourself long-term damage. So you make a decision and feel relieved, disappointed, calm, yet still despairing that it will be another hour of cold and pain before you can stop.

The sun is setting, providing a glow of warmth to my bear back. The pineapple farms and pine trees roll by as I run comfortably, quickly, within myself. It's primal, it feels good. I know I'll finish - I'm certain. My legs know what to do, they turn themselves over time after time after time after time with minimal conscious effort, leaving my mind to consider the finer points of the roots on the ground and the feeling of the air. But inside me there is a deep fear - I've heard about the "abyss" of suffering that runners face in the latter stages of a 100 miler, and It's obviously yet to come - shudder.

Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch.
The dark wall of the pines rises ominously ahead.
Let it end. Let it fucking end.
Maybe if you lay down here they'll send someone for you.
But it'll be even fucking colder if you stop.
You consider eating something to generate warmth, but nausea wells up at the thought of another fucking Gu.
Pain radiates from the quads and left foot with every step - but the decision has been made, it'll be over soon.
And the road turns left, downhill.
Spud and Gordi run past, graciously offering to help, but there's not much now that can be done.

I step timidly into the creek and run up the slight incline at its far bank. I'm a bit disappointed that the sun had set before I arrived at Wild Horse, but it's ok. We're making good time, and we'll finish. The clay, rock and chalk send my feet in all directions as I try to focus on the pool of light in front. Avoid the puddle, miss the root, skip over the rock. I come up a small rise and the world opens in front. There's an expanse of free space, marked with a single light and a few friendly faces. I get to the checkpoint, take some great food and a coupon for the top of the hill, and have a quick chat with dad and the others. I consider running to the base, but figure that it's better just to walk at this stage. Better to save myself for later.

Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch.
There are lights and voices ahead, and you're filled with relief. You come into the checkpoint and look to the left. There's Vetti, Angela and Marissa, and you're completely delighted. But you just accept a hug, grunt, groan, whine, and sit down. Now it is over.
They try to encourage you to have a sleep, eat something, try to rest, but it doesn't get through. Before long, Geoff is patting your head through the car window as Dad starts the engine.

I stroll up the wide concrete path without too much effort. Well, of course it hurts, it's 122km in, but it's really not that bad. It does seem to drag on and on but soon, after realizing that the man dressed in a KKK uniform is actually a water tank, I'm at the top. Hooray!
Now descend nice and slowly.
Oh god, running is so painful.
So I walk-shuffle.
Slower and slower.
My legs are unraveling before my eyes.
And slower until you get to the bottom, and jog pathetically back to the checkpoint.
"You've still got plenty of time Zac",
"I don't want to know about time".
You don a shirt for the first time of the day, making the fatal mistake of rejecting the offer of a thermal top, and shuffle away. And then you walk.
Mike LeRoux comes past in the opposite direction, looking strong.
Dave Waugh comes past and stops for a chat - "See you soon" he says.
Still walking - no more running till checkpoint ten.
Arriving at ten, you reject the thermal top again, take some food, and stroll away, into the deep sand and the dark of the night.
Slower and colder and slower and colder.
Fuck, why didn't you just take the damn thermal.
Slower and colder and slower and colder.
Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch. Sliiiiide crunch.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day before - Niggle festival

Don't know how, what or why, but in the last two weeks I've been befallen with a ridiculous number of niggles.
First it was the left quad - that was sorted after the end of the week.
Then the right calf/foot - seems to have improved with Icing.
Last night, the ITB tightened randomly - Massaged the crap out of it.
This morning, simply standing up, it feels like I strained a small muscle on the inside of the achilles - ran for 15 minutes with minimal pain, and have iced it.
It might be because, during recovery, I tend to be alot more tense and nervous, as I'm not running. So the muscles are tighter and therefore more susceptible to these kinds of strains. Or it might just be my body telling me to run as little as possible during recovery, so that it feels good on race day. Or it might just be a product of my own psychosis. In any case, it is quite disconcerting.
But who cares. I'll be lining up tomorrow, geed up on a small amount of Ibuprofen. I do not fear the intense non-injury related physical pain that this endeavour will entail. I am just afraid that any of the injuries will flare up to the point where I can't continue. I may have to pull an Alun Davies and walk it in. Although that prospect is rather sickening, it will feel much better to get it done, for the series win.
Let's have a crack.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dairy tapering

After consuming about 1.5 kilos of yoghurt every day for the past few weeks, I thought that taking in a less ridiculous quantity of this heavy foodstuff everyday would lead to feeling better.
So today it was 500 grams.
Tomorrow it will be 200.
Then nothing on Thursday or Friday.

As you can see, I'm losing my mind. Without training, there is an emotional need to exert some sort of agency upon the quality of the performance at Glasshouse. Granted, I should be more focused on sleep, but it's the litte things that count, right?

Additionally, there has been a ridiculous amount of anxiety floating about as to actually getting to the starting line. I don't feel afraid of what will come after that, but the thought of not being able to start on the day is unbearable. Every minor twinge is treated with the utmost scrutiny. Every little pain has been cause for concern.
But why?
It may be the mind's attempt not to rationally process the fact that it will have to propel the body for 161.7km on Saturday morning (provided that I do line up). The fact that it will endure a hitherto unexperienced level and type of pain and discomfort in the closing stages.
What must be remembered is that, ultimately, it must be finished. Don't care how long it takes, but as long as we're there on the start line, it will be finished (notwithstanding freak accidents, etc...).

Also, for a bit of perspective, in the past hour, tens of people have died from starvation or curable illnesses. It's just a race.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Only Piece of Trail in West End

Capping off a fine 11km week, I ran out to this small reserve next to the river at the end of a backstreet in Hipsterville.
The trail drops 40m in 200m through a contrived forest, to the edge of the river, using a combination of stairs and switchbacks
It is really medititative to go up and down over and over again, and I may use it for speedwork after Glasshouse.
Needless to say, I'm tapering properly, but am not yet feeling great by any means. A little more sleep will fix that. The quad is on its way to 100% aswell, just gotta keep it reigned in.
Ever closer to September 10.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Double Crossing

At the end of a very banal week, I felt like my life needed a bit of poetry.

V and I were walking back from the West End Markets after I'd consumed about three separate breakfasts, when I thought aloud "I really want to swim accross the Brisbane River".
I did. I've been thinking about it for months.
"Do it. Now."
Well, we waited until returning to Boundary Street, a little closer to home, where I removed my shirt, and scrambled down to the water's edge.

It's all about doing things that scare you. Doing things that you're not comfortable with. It was my last chance to strengthen the courage muscle before Glasshouse.

Ok, find your footing underwater. Creep forward, creep forward.
And I slid in, paddling for dear life.
Nyurrrghh, splash, splash, nyurrrghh.
The lactic burn started, and I was soon wheezing like an asthmatic.

The river tastes like out of date sliced olives in a jar.

Ok, halfway accross.
Can I really do this?
Christ, I'm nearly beat, and the current is really strong!
Am I even moving?
Can I really do this?

Had to paddle hard against it for the final few strokes to the rowing pontoon, but soon I was beached atop the rough carpet. Maybe a little more peaceful than before I had taken the plunge.
Stumble up to the grass, kiss the ground.
Turn around.

Wait for the Citycat to pass, then slide in again, with V loyally keeping watch from the other side.
Piece of cake, no rush.
A guy in an apartment yelled something about sharks, which got the juices flowing, and made me push a little harder for the final 40 metres.
Washed up about 50 metres upriver from the little patch of grass at the start point, so had to carefully scramble over the slippery stones back to where I could climb up.

Daniel miraculously appeared, so we sat around chatting for a little while, before I headed home for a long shower, and a large dose of Betadine.
Maybe I'm just a little closer to September 10 now.